Urban Space in Postwar Madrid


A review of Zones of Influence: The Production of Madrid in Early Franco Spain, by Adam Winkel.

In Zones of Influence: The Production of Madrid in Early Franco Spain, Adam Winkel explores the nuances of urban space and design in 1940s and 1950s Madrid and the cultural reaction to it. To this end, Winkel engages with Michel Foucault’s exploration of disciplinary power; with Henri Lefebvre’s conceptualization of space, spatial practice, and lived space; and with contemporary authors of Spanish urban studies. The Plan General de Ordenación de Madrid, also called the Plan Bidagor after its director, Pedro Bidagor, began a purposeful planning of the capital city after the Civil War of 1936–1939, rebuilding Madrid and repurposing its space to showcase its capitalidad and national influence. Winkel uses this plan, with maps provided, to guide the reader through an analysis of the way in which the capital city was planned as a disciplined space, an extension of the control that the dictatorial regime held over its citizens in the postwar years. Through a careful analysis of films and novels from the time, including authors and filmmakers of both conservative and liberal leanings, this dissertation shows how, although the lived experience of city spaces often varies from what official planning had expected, these spaces came to reproduce the social and economic structures of the regime and maintained its control. Winkel contends that, although critical in their portrayal of the city and the growing industrialization and resulting urban migration, the literature and films discussed in this dissertation in fact recreate a nostalgia for the countryside and a time of cultural “pre-modernity,” emphasizing a certain acceptance of the values espoused by the dictatorial government.

The organization of Winkel’s study reflects the city zones as planned by the Plan Bidagor. Chapter 1 begins within the city, in the domestic sphere. Here four films of the 1950s are examined: Esa pareja feliz (Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis García Berlanga, 1951), El inquilino (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1957), La vida por delante (Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1958), and El pisito (Marco Ferreri, 1959). The 1950s in Spain ushered in a time of increasing industrialization and modernization, which would boom during the 1960s. Madrid was to be the center of industrial production, and the resulting migration to the capital created a housing shortage. Home ownership was touted as a destino social, but it was “a basic tactic for converting the domestic realm into a disciplinary space” (p. 42). The film analysis in this first chapter shows how the home space is never private but is instead monitored by neighbors; access to housing is controlled by city planning and individual economic resources; and as citizens struggle to negotiate their space in the city, they are effectively controlled both socially and politically. The domestic sphere is not an ideal space of harmony and bliss, as official propaganda purported it to be, but rather a space of struggle and isolation. Winkel’s analysis works through the space as the characters experience it, clearly showing their feelings of being physically overwhelmed by the tall buildings, large crowds, and cramped quarters, while at the same time being isolated and abandoned by the city and its inhabitants. However, as Winkel contends, “by portraying domestic space as the battlefield between ideal and reality, these films had as much to do with reinforcing the ideal as it did with tearing it down” (p. 78).

Chapter 2 continues the exploration of planned urban space, looking at Camilo José Cela’s La colmena (1951) and its treatment of the interior of the city—its streets and gathering places. This chapter looks back to the foundations of planned postwar Madrid, and discusses how the city space is represented in the novel and negotiated by its characters. Winkel finds that the spaces of the city are disciplined and that fragmentation and vigilance are important aspects of Cela’s narrative style. They parallel aspects of the dictatorial regime established in the postwar years: “Like the political system that worked to legitimize itself in the eyes of the public while also keeping it under control, Cela’s novel disciplines its characters through a technique of fragmentation” (p. 81). This technique separates and segments its characters, replicating the urban fragmentation of the state’s planned city. The novel is complicit with the regime and its idealization of disciplinary structures because the author, narrator, and reader are all part of the surveillance machine, observing and controlling a system of characters negotiating their space. Here again, there is no private space: the private becomes public and monitored. Winkel argues that those without a purpose or a designated space, like Martín Marco in La colmena, were ultimately punished for attempting to exist outside of the established network. Martín is unable to find a place of true refuge; any space of comfort is fleeting and only serves to reproduce the repressive values of the state. Winkel sees the postwar Spain of Cela’s novel as a “non-place” (following Marc Augé) where individuals are stripped of their identities even in spaces supposedly outside of the planned city structure. Isolation and lack of solidarity characterize the lived experience of the urban space, as seen in Chapter 1. Here, Winkel challenges the studies that have categorized La colmena as a collective novel, finding instead that the collective, that is the masses, do not appear in the novel; rather, the novel is about a network of separate producers living in their cells, as in a hive (la colmena).

Chapter 3 analyzes two films that portrayed city life for first- and second-generation migrants. The films considered here are Surcos (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1951) and Los golfos (Carlos Saura, 1959), both of which adopt the neorealist style of filmmaking. This chapter continues the move outwards from the center of the city, exploring the outskirts meant for the migrant population that overwhelmed the city as industry and commerce grew in the 1950s. As economic conditions changed, so too did the official rhetoric, favoring urban citizenship and increased consumerism. Winkel shows how, although Nieves Condes and Saura differed in their political views, both had similar criticisms of the evolution of the city in the wake of mass migration. In both films, the city is threatening, corruptive, limiting, and unable to meet the expectations of its inhabitants. The characters of the novels seek to find their own space in the city, struggling to separate from the crowd, but are frustrated in their attempts. In Surcos, the city space represents a lack of control and a breakdown of the family structure, and the rural space is upheld as the ideal (reflecting Nieves Condes’s Falangist values, supposedly betrayed by the Franco government). In Los golfos, the city is a space of too much control, and there is a lack of mobility within its designated areas (reflecting Saura’s more liberal leanings). For Winkel, “the critique of the city becomes a means by which the filmmakers could criticize the society” (p. 136). City plans sought to control and order the space negotiated by the migrant families, so that the inner city space would be protected from “outsiders.” However, the urban space is a lived space, and “[p]lanners may have envisioned Madrid one way, but social networks produced another city” (p. 131).

Chapter 4 looks at the outermost area of planned Madrid—the green zones, designated for leisure and relaxation—as seen in El Jarama (Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, 1956). Winkel finds that the lived experience of the characters of the novel reshapes this space into one of frustrated expectations and an extension of the disciplinary mechanisms of the state. Using the spatial theory of Henri Lefebvre and the linguistic and social theories of Pierre Bourdieu, this chapter connects language, space, and power—namely, legal power, or state power. In the novel, leisure space is negotiated physically and linguistically, revealing relationships and hierarchies of distinction and legitimation. In this chapter, we see how El Jarama focuses critically on leisure space as a space of everyday life that is unable to provide the relief it is designed to give. This is because the space is a created space and it is never free from the reach of the state apparatus, represented by the judge and the judicial system. Legitimation of the legal authority of the state is maintained through the language of the judge, which has a distinctive character both because it is expected to and because it is brought into a space of supposed leisure. Winkel shows that these green spaces are disciplined spaces, again referencing Lefebvre to characterize them as “counter-spaces” and also “boxes for living in”: leisure space was “an amplification of the disciplinary structures that controlled the city” (p. 172). The judge, with his formal language and legal authority, serves to exert control and bring order to the riverfront area of the city, and none of the characters is able to escape the social roles and economic pressures that define their lived experience within the city.

In the conclusion, Winkel emphasizes the importance of spatial design and function within the political and social environment of postwar Madrid. Categorization and control were manifested through the intentional division and designation of function for all spaces of the capital city, as the “disciplining of urban space can be used to discipline urban citizens” (p. 200). Common themes found in Winkel’s film and narrative analysis include: expectations are crucial to the experience of space; there is a breakdown of the division between public and private space; and the collective and the individual are in conflict. These divisions and conflicts are internalized and reproduced, maintaining the state’s control of the population. Alongside the critical thrust of these films and novels lies a nostalgia for a time of solidarity that was espoused by the regime. Finally, the study concludes with a proposal for future directions of analysis, which may include less canonical works and more texts favoring the regime’s policies, works produced in exile, and more recent texts to be used as a point of comparison.

As stated in the introduction to the dissertation, Spanish urban studies have mostly neglected the postwar period, before capitalism and consumerism gained momentum within the changed economic policies of the Franco dictatorship. Winkel’s study advances the study of twentieth-century Spanish literature, Spanish urban studies, and cultural production during the years of the Franco dictatorship. The close examination of the dialectics of space, urban planning, and social and political control is innovative in its organization and in the sharp details that guide the reader through the spatial dynamics of the planned city. Some of the conclusions are bold and well supported by an informed analysis, suggesting that well-researched films and novels should be seen in a new way—as critical works, yes, but also unknowingly complicit with the project of the Franco regime. The disciplining of space includes the disciplining of the space’s inhabitants, and this accounts for the element of subjectivity that Winkel finds in these realist texts.

Julia Riordan-Goncalves
Assistant Professor of Spanish
Monmouth University

Primary Sources
Archival maps and documents outlining urban planning of postwar Madrid.
Novels and films of 1950s Spain.
Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1995.
Henri Lefebvre. The Production of Space. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1991.
Henri Lefebvre. The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Dissertation Information
Columbia University, New York. 2014. 217 pp. Primary Advisor: Alberto Medina.

Image: Madrid Puerta Del Sol Km 0. CC license, Wikimedia Commons.

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